SAMARA: Colombia coach José Pékerman hinted more surprises could be on the way after a tactical masterstroke sealed a crucial World Cup win over Poland to leave them in control of their last-16 destiny.
Success over Senegal in their closing Group H match on Thursday will guarantee their progress to the knockout stages. A draw would also see them through if already-eliminated Poland beat Japan.
A stylish 3-0 win for Los Cafeteros over the Adam Nawałka-coached Poles made amends for a 2-1 opening defeat to Japan, in which Carlos Sánchez was sent off after just three minutes.
Yerry Mina, Radamel Falcao, and Juan Cuadrado were all on target in Kazan, but Pékerman’s decision to align both Juan Quintero and James Rodríguez proved decisive.
The creative midfielders were involved in all three goals and the 68-year-old Argentine said he will continue to tinker if it helps Colombia advance.
“There are so many situations that can make or break a football team. This is a World Cup. We have to simply forget any quick judgements or prejudices that we might have,” said Pékerman.
“When I make the starting line-up, I do it taking account of the whole context in which we find ourselves.”
The general consensus suggested either Rodríguez or Quintero was required for Colombia’s must-win clash with the Poles.
But Pékerman turned that assumption on its head.
After a tense start, Rodríguez and Quintero were soon into their stride.
Both were involved in Colombia’s 40th-minute opener, Quintero sending Rodríguez through following a corner to cross for Mina to head past Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny and claim his maiden goal at the tournament.
Quintero’s superb pass sent Falcao on his way to breaking his World Cup duck, four years after a serious knee injury ended his chances of playing in Brazil.
Five minutes later, Rodriguez drew several Polish players on the left before sending a great cross-field ball to Cuadrado, who appeared from nowhere to run in and beat Szczęsny and spark the celebrations.
“We are talking about two players with great talent, they gave us that today,” Pékerman said after a win which he and Colombia dedicated to the embattled Sánchez.
After defeat by Japan, he had received death threats.
“I definitely can’t deny how much I’m satisfied because we knew how crucial it was for us that this combination worked. They complemented each other very well.”
A tournament-leading six-goal tally from Rodríguez steered Colombia to the quarterfinals four years ago, but to reach the last 16 this time around, the South Americans ideally need to beat a Senegal side that beat Poland 2-1 and drew 2-2 with Japan.
Colombia will face either England or Belgium in the last 16 if they make it through.
Falcao said: “Thanks to the talent of players like James, Quintero, and Cuadrado, we made the difference.”
“We played some great football. But now we have to think about Thursday’s game against Senegal, when we can seal qualification to the next round.”
Pékerman, however, called for caution.
“We’re not qualified yet, we have to be at our best to beat an extraordinary team… they (Senegal) are getting better and better and they’ll be playing with the confidence of having four points from their opening two matches.”